Gardening with Scott: Planting with a Purpose

Article posted in: Lifestyle
gardening: lifelong benefits

I grew up hating everything to do with gardening. Each spring, my father would assign my older brother and me to “turn over” the soil in our 10-foot-by-20-foot backyard plot. The bed was full of weeds and dead plants leftover from the previous season. The tools we had to use were dull and rusty. My brother and I groused about the pointlessness of the work and complained that we could just buy the vegetables our parents planted in the grocery store. It felt to us like a lot of labor for no worthwhile reward.

Today, my garden is my happy place. I am never more content than on long summer evenings, when I’m watering and nibbling on ripe vegetables and fruits. I’ve even come to enjoy weeding and all the other little chores that keep a garden thriving.

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So what changed my mind? In the years since, I’ve married and raised a family in a home of our own, which has a yard with a vegetable garden I dug myself. I’ve developed a taste for produce that’s fresher and more flavorful than any you can buy. I’ve grown to appreciate the wonders of nature and the chance to interact with it in my little plot. I’ve discovered the lasting benefits of activity that’s gentle on my body. Most important, I’ve found that growing food nourishes my body and spirit in a way that nothing else does.

Now I believe every healthy person should grow a little of their own food. It brings you up close to the process and exposes you to the sights, scents, textures and tastes of plants in their purest state. At the very least, it reminds you of how hard our nation’s farmers work to produce the food we need. Gardening gives you immediate access to the freshest, healthiest ingredients for your meals. Research shows that people, especially children, who care for gardens tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

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The digging, bending, lifting and stretching you do as you maintain a garden is real exercise—you burn up to 400 calories per hour of weeding—but it doesn’t feel like a workout as you’re doing it. You probably know that being outside in the fresh air and sunshine improves your mood, but a scientist at the University of Colorado has found that certain microorganisms living in soil actually stimulate your immune system and may even help ward off depression and other mental health problems. All you have to do is get your fingers dirty and the microbes do the rest.

You may be like my younger self and believe gardening is unnecessary toil. Or maybe you think you need a green thumb or lots of land to grow food. But you can enjoy all of the health benefits I just described without breaking a sweat or even digging in the ground. You could start, for instance, with just a few herb plants in pots on a windowsill that you snip as you need them. Basil, chives and dill grow year-round like this and just their fragrance will entice you to use them to add fresh flavor to your Nutrisystem meals or flex meals. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and other salad greens, and strawberries all thrive in pots you can keep on a patio or balcony.

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If you feel more ambitious, you can grow the juiciest potatoes you’ve ever eaten (yes, the juice runs out of fresh potatoes) in a burlap bag or raise a crop of cucumbers in a barrel. In a small corner of your yard, you can plant a few raspberry canes that bear pints of the tasty little fruits every summer thereafter. With a little care and attention, you can grow just about any vegetable or fruit you like.

I won’t promise that you’ll come to love gardening as I have. However, I do feel confident that you will be proud of your harvest and eager to eat it yourself and share it with others.

To me, enjoying healthy food with people you care about is just about the most pleasurable way to work toward your ideal weight. That’s why I believe in gardening for life.